Ancestry of the English Bible (V):

Mike Willis
Mooresville, Indiana

The Greek Text

In studying the ancestry of our Bibles prior to this article, all transcription discussed was done by hand. The invention of the movable type printing press by Johannes Gutenberg between 1450-1456 brought a new era in transmission of the Biblical texts.

The advantages of a printing press are obvious. A larger quantity of Bibles could be produced in a shorter period of time and at less cost per volume. Equally as important w s the fact that scribal errors could be eliminated. Once the type was set up, the pages could be printed without additional scribal blunders (of course, printer's errors had to be eliminated). But, with the printing press came a not-too-apparent danger' of elevating to an underserved position one Greek manuscript above all others. The history of the printing of the first Greek texts will further illustrate this.

The Rise of the Textus Receptus

Early in the sixteenth century, Cardinal Ximenes planned the publication of an extensive work on the Biblical text on both testaments based on many unidentified manuscripts and called the Complutensian Polygot. Although it was printed between 1514-1517, circulation was delayed until 1522.

During the delay between printing and circulation, the famous Dutch scholar Erasmus rushed into print with a Greek New Testament (1516) based on decidedly inferior documents. For years this text was revised and used in translations until in the 1633 revision of the text by the Elzevir brothers it was advertised as the "text received by all" and, thus, came to be called the Textus Receptus.

With this new name, men began to think that this Greek New Testament was infallible though it was based on inferior manuscript evidence. Therefore, from its publication by Erasmus until 1881, the Textus Receptus was the basis of every major English translation of the scriptures.

The Fall of the Textus Receptus and the Rise of the Critical Text

For years scholars virtually ignored variant readings in reputable manuscripts because of their attitude toward the Textus Receptus. Through the efforts of many textual scholars, this new attitude toward the Textus Receptus; began to dominate textual criticism: scholars realized that variations could no longer be ignored but must be carefully weighed and studied.

Finally, in 1881-1882, Westcott and Hort, two world renowned textual critics, published their new critical text (i.e., a text which considered variations in Greek manuscripts). Although the work of these scholars cannot be considered perfect, their listings of variant readings cannot be ignored.

From the critical text, all major English translations since 1881 have been made, including, the American Standard Version. Therefore, many marginal notes appear in it marking variations in Greek manuscripts.

Our attitude toward these variants must be one of open-mindedness so that we can objectively consider which reading is the most probable and best documented.

March 11, 1971